MY COUSIN RACHEL
Directed by Roger Mitchell
Adaptation by Roger Mitchell
Based on the novel MY COUSIN RACHEL by Daphne Du Maurier
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Music by Rael Jones
Cinematography by Mike Eley
Film Editing by Kristina Hetherington
Casting By Fiona Weir
Random crew member: Prosthetics……Patt Road
Filmed on location in Devon and Cornwall, England, U.K. and Arezzo, Italy.
There is something about period pieces that makes audiences expect every one of them to be a Downton Abbey or Lawrence of Arabia. But, not every movie is going to be Sense and Sensibility, unless you’ve got Emma Thompson signed on, that is. For every Call The Midwife there is going to be a Churchill’s People and, believe me, none of us wants that.
My Cousin Rachel had superior underpinnings going in: Rachel Weisz, Sam Clafin, beautiful filming locations in England and Italy, even Fiona Weir who has cast some of the most celebrated movies of recent years. Hell. Dame Daphne Du Maurier COBE left them a wildly popular novel on which to base the movie. Still, this was just frittered away. Somehow, all this added up to a movie with no true drama, no passion, and despite the trailers and dark posters, there is no suspense. It could have been a Rebecca, “The Birds,” or Don’t Look Now, but it is really pretty people in very pretty clothes who talk to each other in well modulated voices. Writer and director Roger Mitchell fails this time, on a film that is flat and overlong and gives the actors no chance to overcome these obstacles.
Philip (Claflin) believes his beloved guardian Ambrose has been murdered by his wife Rachel (Weisz), Philip’s cousin. He is determined to extract`equal vengeance on the woman who took away the only family he had, but his plans begin to change when his cousin arrives to live at the mansion. Though she appears to be in deep mourning, she also gives off a seductive air and he cannot resist her. But, what really happened in Italy? What is happening now? One by one, all of the people he thought he could trust seem to be determined to deny him happiness…with Cousin Rachel.
This is the setting for a white-knuckle experience of a film. Is the beautiful Rachel the murderer he believes her to be before she even turns up at the estate? How will he fulfil his vow to take revenge on her for take the life of the man who raised him, the man he adored? If you saw any of the endless trailers, you know the answer to that is by completely forgetting it and falling in love with her in the first five minutes she arrives. And if the audience you see it with is anything like the one I did, the reaction is going to something like this, “Oh, come on, you wuss!’ Pretty spot on, I have to say, especially since I just said it. The trailers leave us guessing about the rest of the film. The posters give the definite impression of a black widow who is enjoying her endeavours.
What a shame that the engrossing drama of the original material was absent here, leaving the plot to drag. There is a sense of forbidden sexuality that can be teased out to see Philip overcome with love and lust. With the lifeless nature of the movie though, Claflin cannot rise above the flaws to give a strong enough performance to give the role true passion or grief. Even the extremely talented Weisz seems to realise there is no point giving My Cousin Rachel an Academy Award performance. (Not even a Lobster performance.) The suspicion and menace that was exquisite in Rebecca is completely absent here; there is never a point where we feel more than meh as something may or may not happen. It is simply difficult to care about these flat characters.
It is more difficult to become involved in a story that leads us in a gently rolling line, with only kiddie-coaster ups and downs and all well telegraphed to anyone who cares to pay attention to the plot. Or the trailers. Or the camera angles. The is one that is all to easy to predict the next scene, the fate of the characters, and the ending. If you really want to do so. Chances are you’ll be looking at the pretty scenery and costumes. Or waiting for the pretty costumes to come hit the floor. Whatever keeps you in your seat, because the allure of “Author of The Birds, Rebecca, and Don’t Look Now!” is a cheat in this case; Dame Du Maurier is probably done spinning and is digging her way back out of her grave after this one. After all, she hated the way Charles Laughton made the studio change the ending of Jamaica Inn, Olivia de Havilland as Cousin Rachel, and Alec Guiness in The Scapegoat. This was probably the tipping point.
Previous incarnations of Du Maurier’s novel haven’t quite hit the mark, either. The 1952 film at least “introduced” young Richard Burton, but Olivia de Havilland played the role too tame to bring out the seductress and make audiences suspect she might well be a heartless murderer. A four-episode series starring Geraldine Chaplin appeared on the BBC in 1983 didn’t have the magnetism of Burton to pull it along and Chaplin has never played to her strengths attempting to portray a femme fatale. It appears audiences will continue to wait for the perfect adaptation.
I’m making it sound dreadful, which it wasn’t. It just wasn’t good. In fact, it was bad. And boring, when it shouldn’t have been with all it had going for it. Still, it is a flat retelling of a book that contains all the elements of a murder mystery and a possible black widow with another murder in mind and undeniable sensual allure. Couldn’t that make for a chilling, gripping film? Not in this case.